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Secondhand smoke’s costs
Because smoke drifts, residents smoking in their apartments detrimentally affect neighboring apartment dwellers. Secondhand smoke causes heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems and is a leading cause of preventable deaths. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, some 1,200 adult non-smokers die from exposure to secondhand smoke each year in Indiana.
The state health department also estimates that secondhand smoke costs Indiana $1.3 billion in medical expenses and the loss of life.
Considering many of the clients served by the FWHA are also probably eligible to receive government assistance with health care, it makes sense to try to reduce those costs.
It can cost an extra $500 to $8,000 to restore a housing unit inhabited by a smoker. A housing authority survey of residents found 45 percent of them are smokers – higher than the 25 percent of Indiana residents overall. That means it will cost an estimated $840,000 to renovate all the FWHA housing units previously occupied by smokers.

Letting the smoke settle

Certainly some residents will feel their rights are being stubbed out along with their cigarettes when a smoking ban takes effect on Jan. 1 at housing units owned by the Fort Wayne Housing Authority. But there usually are strings attached to government assistance, and for good reason.

Smoking may be legal, but there is no legal right to smoke. It is not a protected civil right. It is far more reasonable to argue it is smokers who infringe the rights of non-smokers by endangering them with secondhand smoke. Ultimately, the property owner determines whether a tenant is allowed to smoke.

Residents in any of about 800 federally subsidized housing units owned by FWHA have until Dec. 31 to sign a lease addendum agreeing not to smoke in their home. The new rules ban smoking inside any of the buildings or within 20 feet of them.

The ban at the subsidized apartments will ensure non-smoking residents, children in particular, are not harmed by secondhand and thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is the term anti-smoking advocates use for the toxic residue produced by smoking that is absorbed into carpeting and other permeable surfaces in a home.

“We are starting to see it (smoking bans),” said Amanda Fall, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County. “They (property owners) are selling it as an amenity.”

Allowing smoking also increases the risk of fires that could spread quickly in an apartment complex. Banning smoking will improve the safety and protect the property of all residents from a fire caused by a smoking accident.

The change will not be easy for those residents who are used to smoking in their homes, but Fort Wayne Housing Authority leaders deserve credit for preparing residents for the change. The housing authority made sure to give residents plenty of advance notice and partnered with Tobacco Free Allen County to ensure any resident interested in getting help to stop smoking has easy and free access to smoking-cessation services.

The housing authority also made sure that the smoking ban was not a case of “do as I say and not as I do.” FWHA employees are also subject to the smoking ban.

Housing authority personnel will not be out sniffing around apartment doors in an effort to bust smokers. The agency mostly will rely on reports from neighbors to ensure residents are complying with the new smoking ban. Scofflaws are also likely to be discovered during routine annual inspections.

Maynard Scales, executive director of the FWHA, said the agency understands the challenge longtime smokers face in kicking the habit, which is why education and smoking-cessation support is being provided to residents. “However, after proper investigation of a complaint, we will issue a warning which would be progressively enforced if a resident is found guilty of additional violations.”

Some subsidized housing residents are not going to be happy with the new policy. With luck, most of the residents who smoke will take advantage of the services they are being offered and use the transition as an opportunity to quit. Regardless, the smoking ban means all residents will be safer.